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Money Isn't Everything, Says McCain

Republican John McCain says he's "not overjoyed" by his recent fundraising but that it's not that big a deal.

"If money mattered, I think (Nelson) Rockefeller would be president - would have been president - of the United States," the Arizona senator said in an interview with The Associated Press Wednesday.

McCain raised $6 million in the past three months and has $3.6 million cash on hand, his campaign said Thursday.

McCain aides said the fundraising and the financial condition of his campaign represent a turnaround for the candidate, whose spending during the first six months of the year strained his budget while his polling numbers plummeted.

McCain was expected to report a debt of about $1.5 million, less than he reported at midyear.

He's still facing the prospect of running a publicly financed campaign.

It's a stark turn for a campaign once flush with cash, staff and paid consultants. That all changed this summer when McCain's disclosures showed him burning through cash far faster than he was raising it. That led to a staff purge and talk that his bid was doomed.

The campaign has had other problems, too, with miscues including a joke about bombing Iran. On Tuesday there was a speech sharply critical of Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton that McCain's staff insisted would be delivered but which McCain nixed.

Last month, McCain was vexed by questions after declaring he was Baptist after years of reports that he was Episcopalian even though he attended Baptist services.

In the speech that went unspoken, the campaign released prepared remarks that accused Clinton of being indecisive on foreign policy. McCain said Tuesday he knew nothing about those remarks. Spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said he had seen an earlier draft and insisted he would go ahead with the speech, which included criticism of Clinton wanting "to have it both ways when it comes to foreign policy."

"On the one hand, the New York senator voted for the Iraq War. On the other hand, she now opposes it - sort of. ... On the one hand, she wants a firm deadline for retreat. But on the other hand she says we cannot abandon the nation to Iran's designs," the speech said.

Buchanan took the blame for McCain not giving the speech on Clinton. It was a staff mistake, she said.

McCain said his differences with the New York senator remain a "legitimate issue."

The prepared remarks also indirectly singled out former President Clinton, who was sometimes urged by advisers to make policy decisions by splitting the difference on opposing views, a strategy that became known as "triangulation."

McCain has faced criticism for pursuing middle ground, too. He has worked closely with Democrats on issues that have riled Republicans, including heading off filibusters of Supreme Court justice nominees and, earlier this summer, addressing illegal immigration.

McCain said there was little comparison. He noted his long-standing disagreement with Clinton on the Iraq war effort.

"I've always been respectful of the views of my opponents," he said in the interview. "But I can't in any way conceal what I think are the consequences of failure. This isn't setting milk prices. This isn't a dispute over whether a highway should be built or not. This is about the future of this country and the world."

Instead of giving the prepared speech, the senator decided to talk to students at Camden Military Academy, a grade 7-12 military prep school, about service and sacrifice.

Later Wednesday, McCain spoke at a town hall meeting at the College of Charleston, promising if he was elected president he would brief the public each week on the war in Iraq.

One student asked McCain what he thought about lowering the drinking age from 21 to age 18.

"I'm divided on this issue," he said. "I've always seen a bit of a contradiction."

He said it doesn't seem right that someone can fight for their country in Iraq and not have a beer. But on the other hand, McCain said it's probably not a matter for the federal government.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, McCain emphasized he still supported leaving the drinking age at 21.

"I understand the young man's point and I understand about drinking age and I understand the viewpoint that people have particularly about service in the military," McCain said. "But I still at the end of the day come down to age 21 as the drinking age. I really think alcohol can be something that is dangerous. A tough decision and I understand his point but I still support age 21."